The Edmonton Oilers finished out the season on the weekend and have now cleared out their lockers. Most Oilers’ fans have either checked out many moons ago, have just now aligned their emotional investment with something else, or are now singularly fixated on the draft lottery set to take place Tuesday, 15th of April.
But, for those of you bitterly clinging to the actual performance of hockey by players related to the fortunes of the Oilers, hockey does in fact live on. While most of the various leagues around the globe have brought Spring deaths to the Winter hopes of Oilers’ prospects (Oilers prospects have been knocked out of the CHL, NCAA, SHL and KHL), a few soldier on.
Who are they? Where are they playing? For what? And, will any of them ever conceivably wear Oilers’ silks?
The Big Draw: OKC Barons
Through most of the season the Barons, the AHL farm team of the Oilers, which boasts the lion share of the Oilers’ prospects, haven’t enjoyed much success. Until a relatively recent stretch of wins (February and March each saw extended runs of wins), they appeared destined to miss the playoffs. If they did miss the playoffs, it would be the first time in the organization’s history (the Barons have been in the post-season every year since they joined the league in 2010-11, all under Todd Nelson’s care). But, Todd Nelson and the boys have scraped and clawed and despite losing near every shootout (they’ve lost an amazing 9 shootouts), they currently control their playoff destiny. As of today, they sit in 8th in the West:
(click photo to embiggen)
They have a game in hand on both of their top contenders for the last playoff spot (Charlotte and Rockford), their last 3 games are at home and 2 of them are against the woeful Iowa Wild (dead last in the West)––also, look out for the hard charging Utica Comets (Nucks’ AHL team).
Arguably, part of the Barons’ struggles this year are tied to a new team philosophy. When Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish took over, he said this to Bob Stauffer (transcribed by the great Jonathan Willis):
I know that our coaches and our manager down there are looking for direction on who to play, and we’ll be working with them and giving them probably more direction than we have in the past, and even to reduce the numbers down there. It’s easier to say now because we’ve got a lot more prospects than we have had in the past. We’ve got guys coming in on defence – Klefbom and Marincin and Musil and Davidson and Fedun have all played really well down there – Davidson and Fedun have, and the other three guys I mentioned are all going to be prospects for us. Those are guys that have to play. It’s an easier mindset and an easier decision and an easier strategy to execute now that we have these players coming in that are closer to playing and are legitimate prospects.
One consequence of this direction has meant that no AHL vets of the calibre of Jonathan Cheechoo and Brett Clark were brought in. The closest the team got to a professional ringer was Linus Omark (29 14-15-29), who played extremely well until he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres before exiting the league entirely. Losing minor prospects Teemu Hartikainen, Toni Rajala and Tobias Rieder (who’s had a breakout season in the AHL this year after being traded for Kale Kessy in Steve Tambellini’s last minute shiv in the back) hasn’t helped either.
Led by their scrappy, but NHL hexed, captain Anton Lander (who’s had a breakout offensive year, scoring at a better than point-per-game pace, 44 18-31-49), the Barons are on the verge of the second season and Oilers’ fans should take note. Moreover, based on everything we’ve heard from MacTavish, the Oilers are placing a premium on playoff experience and a winning culture down on the farm.
Players to watch:
Contract year: the biggest wheel on the team already looks home and dry. Mark Arcobello, who may well be done for the season with injury (though wouldn’t it be great if he made it back in time for a playoff game or two?), already signed a one-year one-way deal with the Oilers for a pittance (reportedly 600K).
After Arco, the RFA guys fighting to earn contract extensions are Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton, Horak, Miller and Bachman (and Larsen if he ever makes it down there). Fedun and Pinizzotto are both UFAs.
It’s fair to question the future of all of these guys as Oilers going forward. Of the bunch, it seems (to me at any rate) that the team will be taking a long, hard look at Lander, Pitlick, Horak and Fedun. All of them could easily get extensions. Hamilton, Bachman, Pinizzotto, Larsen and Miller all remain wildcards. It’s hard to see much of an NHL future in these latter players and MacTavish is going to have to weigh how much room he has on the 50-man reserve list for “suspects.”
Beyond the usual Barons we’ve come to know throughout the year, the team has experienced a radical influx of prospects over the past weeks. I discussed some of these newcomers here. Since then, the team has also added Oilers draft picks Jujhar Khaira (63rd, 2012), Darnell Nurse (7th, 2013) and Greg Chase (188th, 2013) who’ve all seen their CHL teams eliminated.
The Barons play their next game Wednesday night, April 16th, against the titanic Texas Stars (spits).
What’s left of the CHL?
As it happens, the Oilers still have two second round draft picks fighting it out in the CHL playoffs.
Most Oilers’ fans should be familiar by now with Mitch Moroz (32nd, 2012). His Edmonton Oil Kings are currently through 2 rounds of the WHL playoffs and awaiting the winner of the Medicine Hat/Kootenay series. Moroz finished the season 70 35-28-63 and is currently leading the Oil Kings in playoff scoring 9 4-8-12. Moroz has been considered more of a suspect (of a 2nd rounder at any rate) than a prospect since draft day and the offence he’s put on display this season is a welcome surprise. Expect him to make the jump to pro next season and try and stay on a roll with the Barons.
Out in the Q, Marco Roy (56th, 2013) and the powerhouse Armada of Blainville-Boisbriand are knotted up 3-3 with Rimouski. Marco fits right at home with recent Oilers’ 2nd rounders in that he’s struggled mightily to stay healthy. A broken wrist, a concussion and Gord knows what else kept him to about half of Armada’s games, 39 14-21-35. Through 11 playoff games he’s 2-3-5. While not a complete disaster of a season, it is fair to say that Marco would like a mulligan on the year. Still, he’s in the playoffs and making a contribution. More than likely he’ll return to junior next year in the hopes of staying healthy and lighting the Q on fire.
Armada plays their next game and series winner tomorrow night (April 15th) in Rimouski.
The Minor Minor Pros
The Oilers’ ECHL afiliate, the Bakersfield Condors boasts the major fruit of the Ladi Smid trade, Laurent Brossoit (164th, 2011 Flames pick) currently 35 24W 9L 2OTL (0.923sv%).
They also made an interesting move today. They signed Mitch Holmberg (currently on an ATO with the Barons and signed to an SPC with the Barons for 2014-15) for the purpose of having him play with the Condors through the playoffs. With all the bodies on the Barons roster, this move makes sense to clear some room and give Mitch a taste of professional playoff hockey.
The Condors made some noise just the other day for a promotional stunt based on Taylor Hall’s bra-encounter earlier this season:
Their next game will be game one of the first round of the playoffs against the Utah Grizzlies this Friday, April 18th.
Totally Random, Long-Shot Prospect Who is also Still Playing Somewhere
Aiden Muir (133th, 2013) is currently in the playoffs with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. He did not enjoy a great offensive season in what is considered a lesser junior league, especially considering his age. He ended up 46th in USHL scoring 54 14-27-41. The Ice are currently playing the Green Bay Gamblers and the series is tied a 1-1. Muir made headlines this year for scoring this amazing goal.
Their next game is Thurs. 17th in Green Bay.
That’s All Folks!
Keep an eye on these kids while you are pining away watching the good NHL teams battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.